A strong thoracic sling will improve your horse's performance, health, and well-being as well as enhancing his agility, power and lightness of the forehand. It can also reduce the risk of injury and lameness. A strong thoracic sling will reduce the stress on the back and spine making him better able to cope with the weight of the rider. Essentially, a strong thoracic sling means a happier, healthier horse.
What is the Thoracic Sling?
The horse has no collarbone and the thoracic sling is a group of muscles, tendons, ligaments and fascia that connect the forelimbs to the thorax (chest) and supports its weight between the front legs. The thoracic sling is essential for your horse's balance, stability, and movement. It also gives him the ability to bend and turn as well as moving forwards and sideways at the same time.
With correct training and conditioning, the thoracic sling muscles become short and more toned - holding the thorax in a higher position and therefore contributing to improved posture.
Recognising if your horse has weak thoracic sling muscles
Weakness in the thoracic sling muscles can cause a number of problems for your horse, such as:
Going on the forehand
Difficulty bending, turning, and performing lateral movements
Reduced range of movement and stride length
Pulling himself along from infront rather than pushing from behind
Running, strong or leaning on the hand
Preferring a hollow outline or going with a high head and neck position
Falling out through the shoulder
Struggling to maintain good balance
Improving Posture and Performance
Weak thoracic sling muscles influence the horse’s posture, movement and performance of the ridden horse.
Understanding the anatomy and function of these muscles and how to assess their strength will be covered in our webinar on Wednesday 4 October 2023. Thoracic Sling Muscles - Improving Posture and Movement will take a detailed look at this crucial part of your horse's anatomy and suggest appropriate exercises to stretch and strengthen them. If you wish to improve your horse’s posture and way of going join us for this webinar.
Exercises to Strengthen the Thoracic Sling
In the webinar as well as explaining the anatomy and function of the thoracic sling muscles I will demonstrate the best ways to improve thoracic sling control, strength and condition. As well as exercises we will be looking at management techniques and riding tips to improve them as well. In this blog I'll share 3 of my exercises that you can do with your horse that target the thoracic sling muscles and improve their strength and flexibility.
Exercises involving poles particularly walk poles are one of my favourite exercises.
Walking horses over poles on the ground or slightly raised have so many benefits including encouraging the horse to lower his head, lift his thorax and stimulating the thoracic sling muscles.
2. Backing Up
Backing up is another favourite exercise of mine. There benefits are numerous. When the thoracic sling muscles are weak the thorax tends to be positioned forward and down between the front legs. Backing up encourages the horse to better use his thoracic sling muscles and push his thorax up and back between his front legs. I prefer the backing up exercise to be done in hand rather than ridden. Begin with just one or two steps and build up the number of steps you do gradually. Aim for long marching steps with our horse's head lowered.
3. Pilates Style Exercises
There are lots of simple exercises that can be performed in the stable to help improve the flexibility and range of motion in the thoracic sling muscles. I call them 'Pilates' exercises because of the similarities in the aims of the exercises. To stimulate the core muscles, improve posture, balance and body awareness.
For example, using a carrot ask your horse to bring his head down and then back between his front legs. Hold the position for five to 10 seconds before allowing him to take the carrot. Repeat this two or three times per session and ask him to take his head a little further back each time.
Learn more beneficial Pilates exercises in the book Pilates and Stretching - An Exercise Index for Horse Owner.